With most teams reaching the 41 games played mark, it is time to give out some hardware!
Firstly, let’s establish the ground rules for this exercise:
- Not a prediction. We are awarding players and teams upon what they did in the first half of the 2021-2022 Season, not predicting what they will accomplish in the remainder of it.
- Team success matters. If a team won less than 60% of their games, players and coach are not eligible for the major awards (MVP, DPOY, COY, All NBA 1st Team). Why 60%? Historically, to be a Top 3 Seed you basically need to be above that number.
- Availability if an ability. You need to play most of your team’s games in order to be seriously considered for any hardware.
Now, let’s pick some winners!
All AfroBallers Team
To start off our awards article, we had to pay homage to our website motto and select the African heritage players who are balling the most.
Only players who were born in Africa or first-generation Africans are eligible. And there is a LOT of talent amongst the few dozens that qualify. Notable players left off are Guards Jordan Nwora, Gabe Vincent and Isaac Okoro, Forwards Jonathan Kuminga and OG Anunoby, as well as Center Bam Adebayo.
As for the team selected:
- G Hamidou Diallo – 11 points per game on 56% true shooting percentage. The Pistons’ defense is 4.5 points per 100 Possessions worse when he is off the court.
- G Desmond Bane – 18 points per game on 59% true shooting percentage, 42% on 3 point shots, to go along with 4.5 boards per contest.
- F Pascal Siakam – 21 points per game on 55% true shooting percentage, with 8.5 boards and 4.8 assists per game. The Raptors’ offense is over 7 points per 100 Possessions better with Pascal on the floor.
- F Giannis Antetokounmpo – 29 points per game on 61% true shooting percentage, with 11.3 boards and 6.1 assists per game. The Bucks offense is over 10 points per 100 Possessions better with Giannis on the floor and its defense worsens over 4.6 points per 100 Possessions with him off the court. He also leads the league in Win Shares per 48 Minutes at .286.
- C Joel Embiid – 27 points per game on 60% true shooting percentage, with 10.6 boards and 4.3 assists per game. The Sixers offense is 6.3 points per 100 Possessions better with Joel on the floor and the defense worsens 3.6 points per 100 Possessions with him off the court.
Coach of the Year
The Coach of the Year Award is usually given to the man who had the best combination of pure winning % and how much that was over the expectation prior to that season.
In terms of pure winning, Monty Williams is the leader with a staggering 79% of his team’s games ending with the Suns ahead in the final score. Being the reigning Western Conference Champions, it is not unexpected that the team from the Valley of the Sun would perform well, but considering their best/second best player – Devin Booker – missed a sizable chunk of the season due to injury, Monty scores well in that category too.
The second best coach in winning, with his team only 2.5 games behind the Suns, is the Warriors’ Steve Kerr. Where he also leads is the overwhelmingly better performance of his team versus pre-season expectations. If you add to that the fact his star player is having one of his worst seasons in most offensive categories, it is difficult not to be impressed by what Kerr helped his team to accomplish up to now.
The other 2 contenders for the award are a step below their counterparts in winning, having their teams slightly under the 70% winning mark. They more than suffice for that in extremely overachieving thus far in the season. Nobody expected Billy Donovan’s Bulls to lead the East anytime in the year, let alone after the halfway mark. As for the Grizzlies, trading veterans away in the offseason was seen as a move to improve their future, not necessarily their immediate record. Credit Taylor Jenkins for coaching these youngsters the league’s most exciting winning basketball.
With so many quality candidates, you cannot go wrong in any choice, but our solo winner for the Mid-Season COY Award is the man who best combined overall success and surpassing expectations in Steve Kerr.
Rookie of the Year
This is an award that traditionally goes to promising players on bad teams, that mostly flash their offensive talent in that rookie year. That is the case for only one of our contenders in Franz Wagner. His Magic team is dead last in the league on pace to win a paltry 15 total games when it is all said and done. His 15.5 points per game on 55% True Shooting percentage are the main reasons why they might win that much, as their offense is almost 7 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the bench.
As for the other 2 contenders, we have rare cases of youngsters excelling on the defensive end, as well as being major contributors to playoff teams. While Scottie Barnes shows flashes of potentially being as great of a perimeter defender as his namesake Pippen, it is Evan Mobley who has impressed the most. With a Kevin Garnett all around style, he is already one of the league’s most complete defensive players.
In traditional stats, Mobley leads Barnes by a fraction in both points and rebounds per game – 15.5 to 14.5 in ppg, 8.0 to 7.9 in rebounds – but almost doubles in blocks at 1.7 per game, versus Scottie’s 0.9. When we look at advanced stats, Mobley leads the main ones, ahead 1.6 to 0.3 in BPM (Box Plus/Minus) and .129 to .110 in WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 Minutes).
Considering Mobley is also the arguably best player on the 6th placed Cavs, versus Barnes being clearly not (yet) on the 8th placed Raptors, we are crowing the Baby KG as our mid-year ROY.
Sixth Man of the Year
Historically an award given to the best bench scorer in the game. This could very well have its name changed to Instant Offense Award or Microwave Player of the Year.
The contenders are Tyler Herro, Kelly Oubre, Buddy Hield and Jordan Clarkson. All scoring over 15 points per game and none started 30% or more of their team’s games.
Albeit the other candidates are worth the admission price, the only reserve scoring over 20 points per game is also the one responsible for keeping his team on the winning side – regardless of having the most injury related absences from starters on the list. For historical context, this would only be the seventh time in the history of the NBA that a bench player scored over 20 ppg for the season.
South Beach’s own Tyler Herro has managed to do that, while holding a true shooting percentage of 54%. As bench scorers go, there has been none better than Herro in the first half of this season.
Most Improved Player
This is another contest that came down to the wire.
Starting with second year players, there is a reason why it is very difficult for them to win MIP: they are supposed to dramatically improve on their rookie seasons. There are 3 sophomores who are worth mentioning in Desmond Bane, Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey. The Sixers PG is the highlight of the group, having an improvement of over 100% in Points, Rebounds and Assists per game, as well as in BPM.
As for the veterans, 7 players presented strong cases:
- Miles Bridges – led the group in points per game improvement at 54% and was third in assists per game improvement at 63%.
- Dejounte Murray – led the group in BPM improvement at 666% and was second in assists per game improvement at 65%.
- Darius Garland – was second in rebounds per game improvement at 38%, as well as third in true shooting and BPM improvements, at 6.4% and 275% increases respectively.
- Jarret Allen – second in both true shooting and BPM improvements, at 7.6% in TS and 411% in BPM increases.
- Tyler Herro – had the third highest points per game increase at 36%.
- Fred VanVleet – led the group in true shooting increase at 8.4%
- Jordan Poole – led everyone on rebounds and assists per game increases, improving both over 70%, was second in points per game improvement at 43%.
I must confess that in the eye-test I was pending towards Bridges, but after crunching the main numbers and comparing with the other candidates, Poole has set himself apart as the MIP for the first half of the season.
All Defensive 1st Team
Defense is one of the hardest things to measure in numbers. The classic stats – defensive rebounds, steals and blocks – are famously imprecise for measuring good D. The advanced stats tell part of the story, but the eye test here is more important than in any other category.
In a season that rule changes are allowing defenses to play more than they were permitted in the past 10-15 years, we have plenty of candidates displaying tremendous defensive play. For the Guard spots, the runner-ups were Gary Payton II, Jrue Holiday and Hamidou Diallo. The forwards that did not make the team are Mikal Bridges, Evan Mobley and Matisse Thybulle. The late cuts in the middle are Joel Embiid and Jarret Allen.
As for our All Lockdown Team, these are the chosen ones:
- G Davion Mitchell – the Kings’ Defense is a staggering 8.4 points per 100 Possessions worse without him on the floor.
- G Derrick White – when he sits, the Spurs give up on D 5.8 more points per 100 Possessions.
- F Draymond Green – leads the League in DBPM (Defensive Box Plus/Minus) and the Warriors as the NBA’s best defensive team. Green adds 6.4 defensive rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per contest.
- F Giannis Antetokounmpo – with 9.5 defensive boards, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals per game, his team’s defense worsens over 4.6 points per 100 Possessions with him off the court.
- C Rudy Gobert – making the Jazz Defense 8.2 points better when he is on the court, Rudy shows why he has won multiple DPOYs, while also grabbing an audacious 11.6 boards per game, to go along with his 2.3 blocks per contest.
Defensive Player of The Year
All NBA 1st Team
This is the one that will generate the most buzz due to controversies. Let us talk about the main omissions from this list.
Starting with the reigning MVP, who is having an even better season this time around, Nikola Jokic. Yes he is the main responsible for the Nuggets still being a Playoff contender and it is not his fault his costars are sidelined. Still, winning is important and the Joker’s outstanding individual play has not lifted his team to the level required to make our All NBA 1st Team.
Considered by many as the NBA’s best player, LeBron James has similar individual brilliance to Jokic, with an even poorer winning rate to show for it. Whether you think he is the actual GM in LA or not, it is unquestioned that his approval was part of the Westbrook trade. By green lighting the most controversial move of the offseason, he is partly responsible for how badly it has backfired.
The glaring omissions from some of the league’s most surprising (Bulls) or most successful (Suns and Jazz) teams are due to how egalitarian those squads are. At least three players in the Suns and two for both the Jazz and the Bulls were contenders for a slot. The gift of being great teams is also a curse for its individuals when there is not a clearcut star amongst them. Gobert or Mitchell? DeRozan or Lavine? CP3, Booker or Ayton? We can argue for hours as to whom their teams owes the most for its success and would not reach a clear verdict.
As for this half of the season All NBA 1st team, here are our choices:
- G Steph Curry – third in the MVP voting last season, we all knew Curry was on track for another great season, but we could not imagine how much team success his game was about to bring to The Bay. Leader of one of the association’s most surprising and exciting teams, the greatest shooter of all times deserves one of the Guard spots on our team.
- G Ja Morant – talking about surprises, the PG of the team with this season’s longest winning streak is the main reason for the NBA’s most astonishing performances. The Grizzlies were not supposed to be this good, this early and Ja is the force uplifting that team.
- F Kevin Durant – it is true that KD decided to leave the league’s most stable and successful franchise to pursue greener pastures in Brooklyn. He chose to do that with Kyrie Irving and he approved the move to bring in James Harden. With that being said, it is nothing short of spectacular how he managed to keep the Nets near the top of the Eastern Conference in the (predictable) frequent absences of his costars.
- F Giannis Antetokounmpo – the reigning Finals MVP has kept the Bucks afloat in spite of not having his starting Center for most of the season and his starting Point Guard for a big portion of it. By elevating his game to his MVP seasons’ level, he is managing to do that while keeping his team as one of the main title contenders.
- C Joel Embiid – by tying the franchise’s longest streak of scoring 30 points or more, Embiid is the engine behind Philly’s sixth placed Sixers, that have yet to play their other All NBA caliber player and starting PG. The fact half of the team’s losses this season came with Joel sidelined further adds to his value on the court.
Most Valuable Player
5 times in the history of the NBA (since blocks and steals started to be tracked in 1973-74) a player has surpassed the marks of 25-10-5-1-1 in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player to do it twice and is well on the way to do it for the third time in the current NBA season.
He currently is second in BPM at 10.8, third in points per game at 28.5, sixth in rebounds per game with 12.5, ninth in blocks per game at 1.5, twentieth in assists per game with 6.1.
Antetokounmpo is the complete package, able to defend all 5 positions, being the team’s primary ball handler and the main finisher in the paint, doubling as the Bucks’ Center in the absence of Brook Lopez and as their the facto Point Guard in the several games Jrue Holiday has missed.
Both by traditional and advanced metrics, this season sits behind only his 2019-20 campaign in terms of individual performance – and he won the MVP that year. His Bucks are seen by most as the safest bet to win it all and that team success is mostly due to how he delivers night in and night out.
The MVP Award is often given to the best player in one of the best teams of the league. Fresh out of proving all his doubters wrong, the man who chose to stay and build something where he was drafted – rather than forcing his way out to buddy up with other MVPs in NYC or LA – is the player who best embodies that premise.